Chapter 3: Acelynn
“Shot! Shot! Ace, Shoot it!”
Acelynn drove her laces into the ball and aimed for the upper left hand corner of the goal. The ball sailed over the heads of two defenders. The crowd stood on its feet. Acelynn could hear her mother’s voice from the sidelines shouting, “Goal! Goal!”
The goalie made a full extension dive, but it didn’t matter. There was no chance. The ball went at least two feet above the goal. Acelynn had missed again.
That was four. But who was counting? Maybe the newspapers were right; she just couldn’t execute despite her natural talent. It was a harsh thing to say about a freshman, but Acelynn could take it. Growing up in a strict Filipino family will do that to you.
Acelynn dropped her shoulders and jogged back to the center of the field to get in position for the goal kick. She looked up at the scoreboard: Saint Andrews 4, Cardinal Newman 3 with 1 minute and 7 seconds left.
“Let’s go! Recover quickly, Scots!” her coach screamed, clapping his hands together.
Newman’s goalie placed the ball on the penalty line, walked backwards, and prepared for her kick. She shot up her hand and took three large steps as if she were going to shoot it cross-field. But just as she neared the ball, she made a quick pass to her left fullback, who was wide open.
Acelynn looked over at Tia, the right forward for the Scots, who ran straight at the fullback. Newman’s fullback anticipated Tia’s approach and dribbled deftly around her down the line until she was up against the Scots’ right halfback, Cassi.
“Switch fields!” Acelynn heard an opposing team member scream.
The fullback did as she was told and booted the ball across the field over Acelynn’s head. The right forward for Newman jumped to head the ball diagonally towards her center forward. It was a flawless header, and had the Striker been faster, she would have been in perfect position to easily make a clean shot at the goal. But the Scots’ Sweeper, Julie, made it to the ball before the forward could. Julie kicked the ball long, and it landed down left field and out of bounds.
“Great job, Julie! That’s it, Scots. Reposition! Molly, get open! Get open!” Coach Callahan screamed.
Acelynn looked up at the scoreboard again; 23 seconds. Lindsey, the left forward for the Scots, took the throw in. She looked for Molly, her Striker, who was still scrambling and elbowing to get open, but Cardinal Newman’s Sweeper was a brut of a girl and was overpowering Molly considerably.
So, Acelynn made a quick move and ran to Lindsey.
“Lindz! Lindz! Double Back Seven!” Acelynn shouted.
Lindsey threw the ball back to Acelynn, who bounced it off her chest, tapped it off the outside of her right foot, and easily went around Cardinal Newman’s right fullback. The center halfback who had been guarding Acelynn ran to the center of the penalty box, expecting Acelynn to go for a shot again. Instead, Acelynn chipped the ball over the center’s head. It floated with a slight backspin, landing perfectly at the left foot of Lindsey. Without hesitation Lindsey took the shot—low and strong into the left corner of the goal.
Acelynn met Lindsey at centerfield and high-fived her, while the referees whistled loudly, calling the end of the game.
“Double Back Seven, Ace!”
“Double Back Seven!” Acelynn yelled back, relieved that they had not only won the game, but that she had also contributed three assists.
“Good game. Good game. Good game,” the girls said, making their way through the line of Newman players.
Acelynn and her teammates made their way to the goal and sat beneath their coach.
“Great work out there tonight, ladies! You really held on against one of the best teams in South Florida. I know you guys are exhausted. So, I want to keep this short. Let you get home and get some rest. We’ve got a big couple of weeks coming up. With this win, the District finalist teams are going to come out blazing. Hold nothing back. But until then, get some rest. You played hard. You played strong. Great job. Let’s take it in. Circle up. 1-2-3…”
“Scots! Scots! Scots!” they all chanted, raising one hand and holding a number one to the sky on the last “Scots!”
They walked to the bench to retrieve their bags, remove their cleats, and put on their sandals and sweat shirts. Coach Callahan caught up with Acelynn, walking with her to the bench.
“Good game, Ace. I love that move you and Lindsey pulled. What was that?” he said, patting her on the back.
“Oh, it was this thing we came up with in practice one day. We call it Double Back Seven, instead of ‘Double O Seven,’ you know?”
Coach Callahan chuckled.
“Anyway, she throws it back to me. I chest it and distract the player that was on her. Then, Lindsey runs behind me and sprints to the goal without going off-sides. And then, well, you saw the rest,” Acelynn said.
“Pretty awesome. You guys work much better together at center half and left forward than you did when I had you at Striker,” he replied.
“Thanks, I just wish I had made at least one of the goals I shot tonight,” she said.
“You’re just way over-shooting, Ace. Ya gotta slow down when you shoot. Take some deep breaths. You been doing the visualizing I told you about?”
“Sometimes,” she lied. In fact, she had forgotten all about it.
“Well, keep at it. I promise, it’ll make a huge difference. You’ll get there. You’ve got the talent. Just believe it,” he said. They reached the bench and he looked her in the eye, waiting for her response.
Acelynn didn’t know what to say. Did she believe it? Could she believe it? She had been told her whole life that she was talented. That she could go “all the way” with soccer if she wanted. And she did want it. Badly. But ever since they had moved from New York to Boca Raton, FL last year so that Acelynn could train year-round, the pressure to go “all the way” seemed to be increasing. Maybe it was all too much. After all, she was only a freshman. But this was an opportunity of a lifetime! Most girls her age would die to be a part of one of the best varsity soccer teams in the state of Florida. And next week she and her teammates would be competing in the District Finals, something she had only dreamed about when she was playing for mediocre club teams in New York.
“Thanks, Coach,” was all Acelynn could muster. She bent down to untie her cleats and felt a hand on her back. She looked up from the ground and saw her mother grinning, while her little brother concentrated intently on his phone.
“So good! Such a great game!” her mother exclaimed.
“Thanks, Mom. Hey, Nimmy,” Acelynn replied.
“Hey,” her brother, Nimuel, said without looking up from his phone.
Acelynn hurriedly shoved her cleats in her bag, and yanked out her soccer sandals, sweatpants, and sweatshirt. She dressed quickly, hoping to get home in time to finish her English essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, which was due the following morning.
“Hey, Ace! Awesome assists!” she heard a voice say.
Acelynn threw her bag over her shoulder and looked for the owner of the voice. It was Vanessa Craft, the goalie and captain of the team.
“Thanks, Vanessa. You too! Great save at the end of the first half,” Acelynn said.
“Thanks,” Vanessa replied. Acelynn had always admired Vanessa, not just because she was a senior and the leader of their team, but also because Vanessa never barked orders at her teammates like Acelynn had seen so many other goalies and captains do. Vanessa encouraged everyone, even when they clearly made grave errors and forced her into some precarious saves. She was a talented goalie, for sure, but Acelynn had realized it wasn’t just Vanessa’s talent that made her so good; it was her inner confidence and composure both on and off the field.
“Ready?” her mom asked, still grinning from ear to ear.
Acelynn nodded her head and walked with her mother and brother to the car, following the many other players, parents, and fans.
“I texted Tatay. He said ‘good job and congratulations,’” Acelynn’s mother said.
Acelynn nodded her head again, this time letting out a heavy sigh. She wished her father could be there, but knew that was nearly impossible. He was in New York again on business. It was the only way her family could afford not only Acelynn and Nimuel’s tuition at Saint Andrew’s, but also her older sister, Patrice’s, who was a freshman at Princeton University.
“You almost had goals. Almost,” her mother said. Her mother continued when she didn’t hear a response from Acelynn, “Maybe more practice? Maybe we ask Coach Callahan?”
“No, Mom. It’s fine. I’m fine. Coach told me how to fix it. I will score next time,” Acelynn said.
When they reached the car, Acelynn dumped her bag in the trunk and slammed it shut a little harder than she meant to. She looked over at her mother.
“Sorry, Nanay,” Acelynn said dropping her eyes. Her mother acknowledged Acelynn’s apology with a sigh and got into the car, while Nimmy got into the back seat. Just as Acelynn was about to walk to the passenger’s side door, she heard a low voice say, “That was quite a move.”
“What?” Acelynn said and turned to see a figure moving towards her.
Chris Langston, a senior and the captain of the boys’ varsity soccer team at Saint Andrews, was steps away from her, tossing his keys haphazardly from hand to hand. He stopped and leaned against the car next to hers. He pulled the rim of his ball cap to the back of his head and waited for Acelynn to respond.
When she didn’t, he said, “The play at the end of the game? Your assist to Lindsey?” Though it was dark, Acelynn could see the outline of Chris’ dimples move as he talked. She felt an immediate rush of nerves and excitement.
“Oh…yeah…uh,” she stumbled.
“Pretty swift. You’ll have to teach it to me some time,” he finished.
Surely there was something more she could say? Something less awkward? So then why did she feel like her voice had suddenly been removed? The sound of her mother starting the car broke the silence.
“Chris! You driving me home or what?” Vanessa said, coming up behind him and flicking the back of his hat so it fell off his head.
Chris knelt down and picked up his hat. He put it on and pulled the rim squarely over his face. His eyes shot into Acelynn’s. She felt the inside of her stomach drop.
“See ya tomorrow, Ace,” he said, turning and walking around the car to the driver’s seat.
“Bye, Ace! Good game!” Vanessa said getting in to Chris’ car.
Acelynn waited until his car drove away before she attempted to move, stunned that Chris even knew her name. He had never talked to her before, though she had seen him plenty of times. In the hallway on her way to math class. After games when he and the other varsity boys soccer players hung around to talk to her teammates, mostly the junior and senior girls. And one time in the parking lot when Lindsey drove Acelynn home from practice. Lindsey had pointed him out to Acelynn, saying Chris was “One of the good guys.” At the time, Acelynn didn’t know what Lindsey meant, but she later learned when eavesdropping in on a conversation between Vanessa and Tia during practice that most of the guys on the varsity soccer team were known as “players,” using their status to get any girl they wanted.
But not Chris. As far as Acelynn knew, he had only dated one girl in the past two years, Kelly Bishop, now a freshman soccer player at Duke. Rumor had it that she had cheated on him in the first month of college, but Acelynn wasn’t sure if they were still dating. It didn’t matter anyway. What was she thinking? A guy like Chris didn’t date freshmen girls like Acelynn. She stood pondering this crazy idea when she heard her brother yell out the window, “Acelynn! Let’s go!”
Jolted back to reality, Acelynn moved to the passenger door, and just as she did, it happened. The world around her went completely dark, like a tunnel closing in on her.
All she could see before her was a stadium full of soccer fans. People cheering and chanting. Vanessa making save after save. Vanessa on a podium with her teammates. Medals placed around their necks. They were all smiling, sweaty, and glowing from the flashes of light of the cameras. Vanessa lifted her arm to the sky and waved to the crowd. They were chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
And then just like that, it was over. Acelynn was on her knees breathing heavily. Dizzy and nauseous.
“I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay,” Acelynn gasped, as if saying it over and over would make her actually feel okay.
Using the car as leverage, Acelynn stood to her feet. She leaned her weight against the door and felt her arm shake. She looked up and saw her mother staring at her through the window with confusion in her eyes. Not wanting to alarm her mother, Acelynn forced herself to open the car door and get in.
On the drive home, Acelynn tried to listen to her brother’s story about a YouTube video where some guy used water balloons to demonstrate microgravity, but her mind felt like it was being thrown around a washing machine. Was it because she was so flustered by Chris? Is that why she seemingly blacked out? But it wasn’t a black out, was it? Quite the opposite. The vision she had was so clear. Like she was watching a movie on a high definition screen. So powerful, in fact, that it had brought her to her knees!
And yes, having one of the cutest and most popular boys from her school talk to her had definitely made her all sweaty and weird. But, this was different. This felt more like she did after getting off one of those zero gravity rides at the fair where her legs felt all weak and limp. Like she was still in the air. Like her feet were unable to feel the ground beneath her.
Her mother looked over at her a few times, but Acelynn just stared out the window, pretending to ignore her mother’s consternation. Maybe Acelynn was just overly exhausted and was hallucinating. But she knew all too well it was more than just a weird dream or a hallucination. It was real. She had seen Vanessa’s future. Finely imprinted with very detailed colors and images.
The rest of the evening, Acelynn tried to focus on her essay due the following day. Since it was late and she had so much to do, her mother let Acelynn eat dinner in her room while she did homework. She plunged through the essay, determined to ignore the desires to analyze what had happened to her in the parking lot.
At 11:30 PM, Acelynn finally finished. As she lay down, she thought she’d have no trouble falling asleep, but found her thoughts once again heavily burdened by the events of the evening. Instead of feeling troubled by the visions she had, she imagined something more enjoyable: Chris Langston with his cute dimples and ball cap. The way he leaned against the car, tossing his keys, staring into her, and smirking ever so slightly. She pictured seeing him the following day walking down the hall with his friends. She’d wave to him and Vanessa and actually say something, as opposed to looking like a mute. Maybe she’d even wear her hair down for once, instead of in its usual ponytail. She imagined him walking away and looking back at her. Such a thought made Acelynn smile. She let the thought linger in her mind until she fell fast asleep.